Category Archives: Gratitude

The beauty of aging

I stroll through the woods near my home, and I run my hands along the gnarled bark of ancient trees. I trail a finger down the deep wrinkles in the trunk, and I think, “How beautiful.”

The twisting growth and grooved skin gives a tree its gravitas and wisdom. In fact, the more gnarled and grooved a tree is, the more we love it.

And yet, we detest those things in ourselves. Why is it that we humans fear wrinkles so much?

According to the Business Insider, in 2020 the “beauty” industry was growing at a historically fast pace. We are more afraid than ever to let our natural selves shine. The industry then was valued at an estimated $532 billion dollars per year, and it’s growing.

We are draining our bank accounts so that we don’t look like trees.

I celebrate a birthday this week. I am older. My knuckles have swollen, so rings no longer slide over them the way they used to. My lifetime of smiles and laughter shows in the grooves that curve around my eyes and mouth. How beautiful.

Arlene Smith on her front porch under a Winnie the Pooh blanket
Old enough to have wrinkles, but not so old that I can’t still love the Winnie the Pooh blanket

I’m not the oldest tree in the forest, but I’m not the youngest either. Many saplings grow around me. My wish is that by the time those supple trees reach my age, they will see the beauty of aging.

A deciduous forest in autumn with the large trunk of a mature tree in the foreground and smaller trees in the background.
Old forest, young trees. All beautiful.

By canoe: A reminder to stop complaining

It’s the time of year for canoe trips.

Algonquin Provincial Park lies northwest of Ottawa, and several of my acquaintances have headed to Ontario’s oldest provincial park for pleasure jaunts to the wild solitude of its lakes and canyons.

They dip paddles in still waters. They drift slowly by moose munching shoreside water plants. They dive into the deep, cold waters of the Canadian Shield lakes.

Their trips remind me of John Shaw. I learned of him and his wife during a trip to the Shaw Woods Outdoor Education Centre. He was a miller from Inverness, Scotland, who travelled to the area in 1847 from what was then Bytown [now Ottawa]. He and his wife, Barbara Thompson, made the trip by canoe.

Today, people make the trip by car in less than two hours, but in 1847 it would have taken days and days by canoe. They would have paddled against the prevailing wind. They might have battled pouring rain while balancing cumbersome loads. They would have portaged around rapids, carrying the heavy canoe and all their worldly goods.

Renfrew Museum beside the Bonnechere River
The Renfrew Museum beside rapids along the Bonnechere River.
P199, CC BY-SA 2.5 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

What a hardship.

AND, they did it with two-year-old son in tow.

Toddlers in warm, safe homes are challenging enough. Imagine travelling by canoe for days with one. (Were there even life jackets in 1847?)

Those hardships put any of our petty little problems into perspective.

Whatever comes at me today, at least I’m not paddling a canoe in the rain with all my worldly goods and a two-year-old. 

Tip of a canoe on the glacial green waters of Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada

A fairy tale of crossed lines

Once upon a time a three-year-old boy sat in a church. At the front of the cavernous space, far away from him, an adult voice yammered on. The boy squirmed. Squiggled. Stretched out on the floor.

To entertain him, a woman handed him an activity sheet. It had a maze printed on it, full of dead ends and clever diversions.

Child's activity sheet maze where a squirrel find an acorn

Happy to have any distraction, the boy sat up and began to trace the path with a finger. He made his way through the maze with delightful disregard for the lines. After blowing through any twists and turns that might have blocked his progress, his finger reached the end.

He raised his arms in victory. “I did it!”

“Yes, you did,” the woman affirmed.

Why tell him that crossing lines isn’t always that easy?

Why burden him with the idea that some lines are best left uncrossed, and sometimes it’s hard to figure out which ones.

Better to send him out into the world excited about obliterating barriers blocking his path. Better to equip him to cross the many lines that need to be crossed.

And, far away from him, the adult yammered on.

Find things beautiful: van Gogh and us all

Vincent began to make his presence known in my life. Books about him passed through my hands at the library where I work.

The book Vincent Van Gogh by Mike Venezia

A library patron returned the DVD Loving Vincent and took time to tell me how much he enjoyed the movie.

DVD cover for Loving Vincent

A blogger I follow wrote about Vincent in A Sunflower Story.

And then I immersed myself in his art and his thoughts at Beyond van Gogh: The Immersive Experience. (Go, if it comes to a city near you.)

At the exhibition Vincent himself melted from the ceiling.

His brushstrokes came to life on the high walls and the floor all around me.

His artist soul reached out to my creative one as if he had written sentiments to me personally across centuries. I am certain every person immersed in his experience felt the same.

Quote, text against van Gogh brushstrokes: "I also believe that it may happen that one succeeds, and one mustn't begin by despairing; even if one loses here and there, and even if one sometimes feels a sort of decline, the point is nevertheless to revive and have courage, even though things don't turn out as one first thought." To Theo van Gogh, The Hague, 22 October 1882
Quote, text against van Gogh brushstrokes: "...I always think that what we need is sunshine and fine weather and blue air as the most dependable remedy." To Theo van Gogh, Arles, 29 September 1888

Vincent told me to enjoy the air and sunshine. He urged me not to despair.

He reminded me to seek out the beautiful. A message sent to me, and you, from 1874 to the present.

Quote, text against van Gogh brushstrokes: "...find things beautiful as much as you can, most people find too little beautiful." London, January 1874

Around the bigger obstacle

For the past few years, every time I walked on my favourite wooded path of the NCC Greenbelt, I have had to step over this fallen tree.

A decaying tree trunk, approximately 6 inches in diameter, across a forest path.

No big deal. The decaying trunk is small, and so many human feet and knobby bicycle tires have knocked wood chips out of it over the years, it is returning to its earthy source. I notice this fallen tree, and I must be certain not to trip, but all I need to do is take one larger-than-usual step to clear it.

Yesterday I arrived at the spot. Beside the smaller fallen tree, exactly parallel to it, lay this larger tree trunk, knocked over by an overnight storm.

This one stumped me (pun intended) for a second or two. Too big to clamber over (at least with dignity intact). Too low to crawl under. Must go around.

In only one day so many others had resolved not to let a bigger obstacle block their path that the ground around it was already trodden flat.

New path being forged through the woods.

Every day I clear small obstacles in my path. I must notice them and take extra measures to deal with them, but I manage, no problem. I navigate the pylons narrowing the roadway on my way to work, and I take a few seconds to put on a mask before entering a store.

I ask myself though: Am I allowing some bigger obstacle to block my path? How can I go around?

May you have a day of small obstacles only. Do you have bigger ones you must go around?

Can’t write . . . eating chocolate . . .

I don’t always eat sweets, but when I do, it’s usually chocolate.

Melt-in-the-mouth milk chocolate for me, although I understand if you want to be all healthful about it and eat dark chocolate.

Today is World Chocolate Day.

If you need an excuse to indulge . . . you’re welcome.

Here is a list of fair trade chocolate options.

Two small heart-shaped chocolate cakes with burnt sugar spikes, by @butteraimee
Chocolate desserts by @butteraimee